Not your usual spaghetti…

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Do you fear the carbs?

I spend a good portion of my patient time counseling patients on how to manage their weight and diabetes, and often that involves talking about food choices, nutrition, and exercise (yes!  a few of my favorite things!).  Some of my patients hardly know where to start, while others have embraced multiple fads (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Grain Brain, Gluten-free, etc), sometimes even eliminating whole food groups or cooking (i.e. only eating raw) in their efforts to lose weight and feel better.  There is a lot of controversy over carbohydrates, which have recently been cast as the new enemy in our fight against diabetes and obesity.

I wish I had an answer for “Which diet is the best diet,” but I don’t.  The best diet is the one you actually adhere to, the one you can follow sustainably.  For me, that means a more plant-based diet that emphasizes fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, while also incorporating lean protein, whole grains, and good fats.   Make your calories count, and be mindful of avoiding foods that are highly caloric but not necessarily nutritious.   It’s amazing how different 2,000 calories can look on your plate, depending on what you choose.

I think that carbohydrates (whole grain, unprocessed and unrefined ones) do have a place in our diet and can be enjoyed in moderation.  For those seeking to expand their options beyond pasta, however, the following is a tasty rendition of spaghetti squash – this would never be a substitute for pasta…it stands alone as a tasty interpretation of this now very popular squash, which is low in calories, high in fiber, and contains folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta-carotene. 

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto, Lemony Kale, and Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 slices proscuitto, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 packed cups of chopped kale leaves
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¼ cup oven roasted cherry tomatoes*
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • salt & pepper
  • optional: freshly grated parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Slice squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Drizzle cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the squash on a baking sheet, cut side up. Roast for about ~30-45 min until the flesh is tender and you can scrape noodle-like strands with a fork.
  3. Remove squash from the oven, cool slightly and use a fork to scrape the squash into strands.  Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet over medium heat, add about 1 tbl olive oil to the pan.  Saute shallot and proscuitto until slightly crisp.  Add garlic, rosemary, and chile flakes.
  5. Add the kale leaves and a good pinch of salt.  Stir in lemon juice.
  6. Once the kale is partially wilted, add the squash strands, a little grated cheese, the oven roasted cherry tomatoes, and salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to incorporate.
  7. Remove from heat and top with toasted pine nuts and extra grated cheese.

* for oven roasted cherry tomatoes – halve cherry tomatoes crosswise and toss with a little olive oil, making sure they are evenly coated.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stir in minced herbs if using (e.g. thyme or rosemary).  Roast in preheated oven at 250 degrees F for about 1 hr or until shriveled and almost dry, with a little juice.

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On books, books, and more books.

IMG_2627“Is this a case of the rich getting richer?” J asked me when he saw me happily engrossed in Ottolenghi’s Plenty.  I think the answer would have to be unabashedly yes.

I have now also added Plenty More to my growing cookbook collection, courtesy of my thoughtful sister at Christmas.  Despite less and less free time to read over the years, I’ve continued to amass quite a few books, as my poor family and friends can attest after all the times they have had to help me move them – sometimes across the country!  (I have a hard time letting go of my books, academic or not).  Cookbooks have come to occupy more and more space in that library, despite the wide availability of resources online.  There is just something so engrossing about flipping through pages of beautiful pictures and recipes – recipes occasionally accompanied by others’ stories, but which also call out to be contextualized in new ways, in my own kitchen.

I would love to have a wall to wall library (like Belle in Beauty and the Beast!) someday.  A walk-in closet would also be nice, but I think J will really accuse me of being one of those “rich getting richer” if I insist on that.

Despite all of the zigzagging I’ve done on planes since college, I have yet to really travel the world.  Cookbooks are my window into other places and countries, a chance to discover other cuisines and cultures through taste, texture, and smells.  I’ve been fortunate to live in metropolitan areas rich in ethnic restaurants and cooks adept in translating the tastes of their homelands, but I know nothing compares to actually traveling there.

I recently made shakshouka* and this celery salad with feta and soft-boiled egg from Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More.  Both were fantastic, and I can not wait to try more recipes (I may or may not have bookmarked almost the entire book 😉 ).  I love the vibrant simplicity and bold flavors of both – delish!

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Warming up from the inside out –

As the Northeast braces for terrible, horrible, no-good, “frozen tundra” weather, I feel a little guilty to be enjoying the unusually warm and dry weather we are having on the Other Coast.  I did spend four years in -3o degree F temperatures, however, so I am not exactly one to run away from the cold.  In fact, cold weather is the best running weather, as far as I’m concerned.

One of the best things about coming in from the cold is the enveloping warmth that greets you when you escape the outside, and finally shed all of your layers.  Even better is a bowl of soup to warm you up from the inside out.  Perhaps it is the memory of my mother’s comforting soups, some of them enviably simple in their composition, that makes me gravitate towards making soup now when I’m in the mood for comfort food.

I’ve moved beyond the simple broth-based soups I grew up with to heartier soups inspired by winter vegetables and other produce I’ve seen in the market, although my preference is still towards lighter soups.  The following recipe for Creamy Cauliflower Soup, adapted only slightly from America’s Test Kitchen (The Best of 2015 issue), is my idea of a perfectly balanced soup – not too heavy, delicately flavored, and nourishing.  Simmering the cauliflower for different lengths of time adds complexity to the flavors, and the lower insoluble fiber content of cauliflower lends itself well to silkier, creamier soups without added cream.

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup (slightly modified from America’s Test Kitchen)

Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower (2 lbs)

1.5 tbl butter, divided use

4 tbl olive oil, divided use

1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly

1 small onion, halved and sliced thin

salt and pepper

4.5-5 cups water

1/2 tsp sherry vinegar

3 tbl minced fresh chives

Instructions:

  1. Pull off outer leaves of cauliflower and trim stem.  Using paring knife, cut around core to remove; slice core thin and reserve  Cut heaping 1 cup of 1/2 inch florets from head of cauliflower; set aside.  Cut remaining cauliflower crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  2. Melt 1 tbl butter with 2 tbl olive oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add leek, onion, and 1.5 tsp salt; cook, stirring frequently, until leek and onion are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium high.  Add 4.5 cups water, sliced core, and half of sliced cauliflower and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Add remaining sliced cauliflower, return to simmer, and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender and crumbles easily, about 15-20 minutes longer.
  4. While soup simmers, melt remaining 1/2 tbl butter in 2 tbl of olive oil in 8 inch skillet over medium heat.  Add reserved florets and cook, stirring frequently, until florets are golden brown and slightly caramelized.  Use slotted spoon to transfer the florets to small bowl, toss w/ vinegar, and season w/ salt to taste.
  5. Process soup in blender until smooth, about 45 seconds.  Rinse out saucepan.  Return pureed soup to saucepan and return to simmer over medium heat, adjusting consistently w/ remaining water as needed (soup should have thick, velvety texture but should be thin enough to settle with flat surface after being stirred) and seasoning with salt to taste.  Serve, garnishing individual bowls with browned florets, drizzle of olive oil, and chives and season with pepper to taste.

Packing in the veggies!

When I was studying in the Midwest, I used to crave the foods I had no hope of finding anywhere nearby: jiao zi, luo bo gao, dolsot bibimbap, kimchi, pho, banh xeo, bun rieu, Vietnamese cha gio…the list went on and on.  The homesickness for the diversity of Asian cuisine drove me to the kitchen, where I tried to recreate the tastes from memory and by researching the internet or cookbooks.  Some people received care packages with sweets and treats; my mother shipped me Asian ingredients and sent me back to school with suitcases stuffed with gai lan, which was not readily available where I was living.

I still love buying and preparing Asian vegetables, which shine in the simplest of preparations.  Living in a part of the country with amazing produce also helps.  Inspiration is always around the corner at the next farmer’s market!

I made this simple miso-glazed broiled eggplant the other night for a light dinner, and couldn’t wait until the next day to have the leftovers for lunch.  Enjoy!

Miso-glazed eggplant
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Ingredients:

  • 1 tbl mirin
  • 1 tbl sake
  • 2 tbl shiro miso
  • 2 tbl sugar
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 Japanese eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • toasted sesame seeds (garnish)
  • green onions sliced on the bias (garnish)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Place the mirin, sake, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Add miso and ginger and stir until smooth.  Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the eggplants.
  • Score the cut sides of the eggplant with diagonal cuts.  Brush the cut sides of the eggplants with sesame oil. Put the eggplants cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast  in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until they just start to shrivel. The flesh should be fork tender. Remove from the oven and carefully turn them over.
  • Brush the top of the eggplants with a good layer of the miso sauce (use up all the sauce!) and put them under the broiler until the sauce bubbles up and starts to caramelize, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, garnish with toasted sesame seeds and green onions, and enjoy!

When life makes you bananas…make banana bread!

A view from my morning run:
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Every runner remembers their first real run – the exhilarating moment when you realize how far you are really able to go, and when you realize how addicting it is to feel the pavement under your feet, the wind in your hair, and the rhythm  of your breathing as the miles melt away.  You’re already thinking about your next run by the time you’re done.

These days, after injuring my hip a few years ago, every run feels like a gift.  I don’t get caught up in races or PRs or comparing distances and times because I would risk  injury and possibly not be able to run for many more years, which is precisely what I hope to do.  Instead, I’ve learned to listen to my body and enjoy the fact that I was simply “born to run,” as Christopher McDougall’s novel is aptly titled.  I am now a better, faster, and lighter runner than I have ever been!

I run when I’m happy, when I’m sad, and when I’m stressed.  In all my moods, even when I didn’t initially feel like running, I finish my run with a load off my mind and heart.

Perhaps that’s why the boyfriend asked, “Hon, what’s on your mind?” the moment I recapped my day and told him I had run and baked.

People who know me know that I bake when I have a lot on my mind.  It’s a bit of an escape, to soothe my mind by using my hands to measure, weigh, mix … a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  And before you know it, the house smells incredible and you have something to share with any willing taster! But I also bake when I’m happy, when I have time, when I have the ingredients, and when I’m taken with a recipe and can’t stop thinking about it for days.

He needn’t have worried quite  that much.
IMG_3022 If you have too many bananas around (it happens!), this recipe for Nutella Banana Bread from Cooking Light comes together quickly and is a crowd-pleaser – I work in an office full of nutritionists, and not a crumb remained! You CAN be healthy and indulge (a little). The bananas provide fiber and potassium and make the bread naturally moist and sweet, requiring less fat and sugar overall.  I wouldn’t change a thing about this recipe, although I don’t usually do the chocolate drizzle/nut garnish.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Banana Bread

Yield: Serves 16 (serving size: 1 slice)

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons chocolate-hazelnut spread (such as Nutella)
3 tablespoons plus
1 teaspoon canola oil, divided
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 medium ripe bananas, sliced
2 large eggs
6.75 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole buttermilk
Baking spray with flour (such as Baker’s Joy)
1/4 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Combine chocolate-hazelnut spread and 1 teaspoon oil in a microwave-safe dish; microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds or until melted. Stir. Combine 3 tablespoons oil, butter, brown sugar, and banana in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until combined. Scrape half of batter into a 9 x 5-inch metal loaf pan coated with baking spray, and top with chocolate-hazelnut spread mixture. Spread remaining batter over chocolate mixture. Using a wooden pick, swirl batter. Sprinkle batter with hazelnuts.
4. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread; cool on wire rack.
5. Place bittersweet chocolate in a microwave-safe dish; microwave at high for 30 seconds. Drizzle bread with chocolate; let stand until set.

Nutrition data: Calories: 193 Fat: 9.7g Saturated fat: 3g Monounsaturated fat: 3.5g Polyunsaturated fat: 1.2g Protein: 3.4g Carbohydrate: 24.6g Fiber: 1.2g Cholesterol: 30mg Iron: 1mg Sodium: 186mg Calcium: 28mg

Another great option for breakfast on the run (and too many bananas) are these whole wheat banana muffins:

Whole Wheat Banana Muffins (adapted from here):
Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups whole-wheat flour (I used whole white wheat flour)
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tbl of milk
  • ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 very ripe bananas, peeled (the riper they are the sweeter they’ll be)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a muffin pan with paper or silicone liners and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl mash the two bananas together with the back of a fork.
  4. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder.
  5. Add eggs, butter, canola oil, milk, and syrup to the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.
  6. Fold in mashed bananas.
  7. Divide batter carefully between the prepared muffin tins.
  8. Bake until they begin to brown on top and a toothpick comes clean when inserted in the center, about 20 to 22 minutes.

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Adding a little spice to the workweek

Between clinical work and finishing up clinical and research work in the evening once I leave the office, it often feels like the days are too short by the time I’ve managed to exercise and do a few chores or run errands.  That said, there is *always* time to be inspired to cook, using new and old recipes.  Even more so when there’s company for dinner!

Tonight, I planned ahead and prepared mae-un dak gui, or Korean chili paste spicy chicken.  I served it with stir-fried green beans, bok choy with ginger, mushrooms sautéed in miso butter, and brown rice.  Total comfort food, and a wonderful way to break in the new grill pan I received for Christmas!

The chicken itself needs to marinate at least 8 hrs (preferably overnight) – it is simple to throw together the night before or early in the morning before work, which is exactly what I did.  With flash-stir-fried veggies, it makes for a quick weeknight dinner!

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Korean Chili Paste Spicy Chicken (mae-un dak gui, adapted from original recipe here):

Ingredients:

1-1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons Korean chili pepper paste (gochujang)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoons mirin (or sake)
1/4 cup onion, pureed
1 1/2 tablespoons grated or finely minced ginger
1 tablespoons minced garlic
2 scallions, chopped into 1 inch segments, white and green parts separated

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, mix the gochujang, soy sauce, water, white sugar, mirin, onion, ginger and garlic together. Make sure that the sugar is well incorporated in the marinade.
2. Add chicken to the marinade and mix well, making sure each chicken piece is thoroughly coated and has marinade incorporated into all the nooks and crannies. (Wearing disposable kitchen gloves would be helpful for this if you have them.)
3. Cover and marinate for at least 8 hrs or overnight.
4. When ready to cook, heat the grill pan over medium heat. Cook for about 7-9 minutes on one side over lower heat, as the higher sugar content of the marinade lends itself to burning. Do not move for the first few minutes to allow for searing and caramelization of the meat. Add chopped white scallion parts. Turn chicken and cook an additional 7-9 minutes on the other side, adding chopped green scallion parts about 1-2 minutes prior to removing the grill pan from the heat, just long enough to wilt slightly.

When without, improvise…

Looking back at the Boxcar Children series, I’m surprised at how naively I enjoyed reading the adventures of four kids solving mysteries in a bygone era, ignoring the improbable circumstances.  While the stories seem much more dated and naive now, perhaps what appealed to me was reading about how the oldest sister was always somehow cooking something that sounded both foreign and yet appetizing to me, as a first-generation kid.

Today, I thought of Jessie rolling out apple pie crust with an old green bottle as I improvised in my own kitchen to roll out the crust for these lovely “rose apple tarts.”  Lacking a rolling pin in my temporary kitchen, I put a nearly empty bottle of lackluster French wine to better use…

Voila!  “Rose apple tarts!”  I’ve been enchanted with this idea since seeing the recipes posted earlier in the fall.  I used honey crisp apples thinly sliced with a mandolin to form the roses, and encased the “apple roses” in an almond tart crust. IMG_3061

Rose Apple Tarts (recipe adapted from here and here):

Ingredients
for the pastry dough
  • 1  cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole white wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds (about 2 ounces) OR almond meal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons (about) ice water

for the filling

  • 2-3 apples (Pink Lady, Braeburn, Honeycrisp etc)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tbl) – I used a Meyer lemon
  • 1/4 cup strawberry preserves

Instructions:

for the pastry dough

  1. Blend flour, almonds, sugar and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. (If using almond meal, pulse together dry ingredients).
  2. Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal.* Mix in almond extract and enough water to form moist clumps
  3. Knead dough briefly on work surface to combine; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm before rolling, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
  4. On a well floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4″ thick. Use a biscuit cutter, a cup, or a bowl about 3 1/2-4″ in diameter to cut out rounds of dough.
  5. Fit each round into the cup of a buttered muffin tin, pushing the dough up the sides. Prick bottom of the dough with a fork.  Chill dough while the filling is prepped.

for the filling

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. To cut the apples and remove the core, place the apple upright and make straight cuts around the core to divide the apple into four pieces: 2 large pieces and 2 smaller pieces in addition to the square core.
  3. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, cut the apples very thinly into half moons. Toss the apples with the lemon juice. Melt 2 tbsp of butter and combine with 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Pour mixture over the apples along with lemon juice and toss to combine. Microwave apples for about 1 minute, until soft and pliable enough to roll.
  4. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and combine with remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Brush the bottom of each dough cup with the mixture.
  5. To form the roses, place about 10 slices of apples on a flat surface, laying them out horizontally and consistently with the skin side facing you. Place each slice so it overlaps the previous slice by half. Begin tightly rolling the apples from one end to the other. Once you’ve got the basic rose shape, pick up the apples and add any additional apple “petals” around the outside, depending on how large you want the rose to be.
  6. Put an apple rose in each cup of the muffin tin and bake for 25-30 minutes at 375F until crust is golden and apples are cooked through.
  7. Warm the strawberry preserves in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Brush preserves over each apple rose to glaze.

* Alternatively, you can whisk together the dry ingredients and then work the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingertips until the mixture looks like a coarse meal and there are no pieces of butter larger than the size of a pea.